Snowden, Bergdahl? Obama Set For 'Pardon Frenzy' As He Leaves Office
Having already broken the records on commutations, AFP reports that President Obama is fielding pressure from all sides to grant unlikely pardons of sentences to people whose supporters say have been unjustly sentenced or sought out by the justice system, before he leaves office in two weeks. Among them is Bowe Bergdahl, Leonard Peltier, and Edward Snowden.
The US Constitution allows a president to pardon “offenses against the United States” and commute — either shorten or end — federal sentences.
Obama has so far granted 148 pardons since taking office in 2009 — fewer than his predecessors, who also served two terms, George W. Bush (189) and Bill Clinton (396).
But he has surpassed any other president in the number of commutations, 1,176.
A Rastafarian prophet, a former Taliban captive and thousands of minor drug traffickers have one thing in common: Their names have been submitted to President Barack Obama for clemency before he leaves office in two weeks. As AFP reports, some US presidents have used this regal power of leniency in a pointed way near the end of their term in office.
On the last day of his term in 2001, Democratic president Bill Clinton granted pardon in a highly controversial move to late fugitive trader Marc Rich, whose ex-wife had been a major donor to Democrats.
Sixteen years later, Obama is fielding pressure from all sides to grant unlikely pardons or commutations of sentences to people whose supporters say have been unjustly sentenced or sought out by the justice system.
Among them is Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army sergeant held captive for five years by the Taliban before his release in a prisoner swap, who is due to be court-martialed for desertion.
Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist convicted for the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents in what his supporters say was a setup, is also hoping to enjoy Obama’s good graces.
Then there’s Edward Snowden, who made the shattering revelation in 2013 of a global communications and internet surveillance system set up by the United States.
The 33-year-old, a refugee in Russia, is backed by numerous celebrities like actress Susan Sarandon and singer Peter Gabriel, as well as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.
If Obama fails to pardon Snowden, his supporters say he may face the death penalty under the incoming administration of Republican Donald Trump, who has called him a “terrible traitor.”
In another leak case, Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in solitary confinement for handing 700,000 sensitive military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, some of them classified.
Activists say her sentence is excessive and point to the psychological frailty of the transgender soldier who has already made two suicide attempts.
Even though the White House has dismissed a possible pardon for Snowden and Manning, their supporters are still hoping for a final magnanimous gesture from a president about to leave the constraints of his high office on January 20. But both cases present unique challenges: Snowden has yet to be sentenced and merely faces espionage charges in the US, while Manning has an appeal pending before military court.